Saturday, February 28, 2009

In/Words Magazine & Press

The other night I participated in Carleton University’s In/Words monthly open set reading, now held at the Legion on Kent Street, just south of Somerset Street West, celebrating the recent publication of In/Words Volume 8, Issue 1, as well as the chapbooks Pirates by Justin Million (Scattered Poem Thirty Four, 2009), Blizzard: Ottawa City Stories by Jeff Blackman and Peter Gibbon (chapbook series 8.7, 2009), Saintliness/Slowdive by Jeremy Hanson-Finger (chapbook series 8.9, 2009), so it’s the first really warm day by jesslyn delia smith (chapbook series 8.10, 2009) and Dust in the water by Mark Sokolowski (chapbook series 8.11, 2009), as well as the recent publication of the second issue of The Moose & Pussy, “Ottawa’s Only Sex & Arts Mag.” Under the tutelage of Carleton University English professor Collett Tracey, the In/Words crew, a “non-profit, student-run ‘small press,’” has been around for nearly a decade, shifting and changing depending on who is around to participate in both the publishing and events, but its only been in the past couple of years that some of these kids have started making their way out into the larger literary world of the city around them, thanks in part to the participation of poet/editors Cameron Anstee, Ben Ladouceur, Jeff Blackman, Peter Gibbon and Mark Sokolowski, among others. Ladouceur, for example, was a runner-up in the recent John Newlove Award run through, and both he and Anstee had poems in the most recent issue of ottawater [see my recent review of Anstee’s chapbook Remember Our Young Bones here]. Still, for whatever it is they’re doing, I don’t know why I find it so difficult for any of them to remember to get me copies of their publications; why is it I can only get material from them by showing up to where they already are? I know I’ve already missed a chapbook by Ben Ladcouceur, for example.

Poor, poor Mackenzie-King
Forgotten in this town

A mouse-faced bachelor
tips his top hat
to the ladies of Lowertown:
gets giggles in response,
goes home to confide
in the dead.

You’re just trying to cope;
to convince yourself
you’re good enough

in diary entries,
legacy projects.

Everyone forgets
how fucking cold it gets.

Of all the men on Parliament Hill
only Mackenzie King
is dressed for the weather. (Jeff Blackman and Peter Gibbon, Blizzard: Ottawa City Stories)

And I wonder, did either Jeff Blackman or Peter Gibbon, through working poems in and around the late Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, go through Winnipeg poet Nathan Dueck’s first book, king’s(mere) (Winnipeg MB: Turnstone Press, 2004), an entire poetry collection on the subject of King? And was it Jeff Blackman who made an Artie Gold reference during his reading in the open set? How many people these days, let alone writing students in Ottawa in their early 20s, are quoting Artie Gold [see my piece on him here]?

Another factor in the increase of interesting poets emerging from In/Words could be that poet Rob Winger has been prodding some of these kids through his poetry courses at Carleton University, introducing his students to the Canadian long poem and the ghazal, moving through Michael Ondaatje's infamous The Collected Works of Billy the Kid (1970) and John Thompson’s Stiltjack (1976).

There are elements of Mark Sokolowski’s Dust in the water that I think could be quite interesting, taking a page from Daphne Marlatt’s Steveston (originally published in 1974 by Talonbooks, reissued by Longspoon Press in 1984, with a third edition produced by Ronsdale Press in 2001), working his own poems, as he writes in the back, “driven by a quest to examine the notions of ‘locus’ and ‘locality’, in an attempt to find some general truths or questions. The poems depict a specific community, that of Prince Edward County, in an attempt to explore the psychology of the people I have met there.” [Read my own essay on a variant on same, as I was writing my poetry collection The Ottawa City Project.] Referencing, also, James Joyce’s Dublin and Al Purdy’s Prince Edward County, Sokolowski has some moments here and there, but it’s hard to do much more than surface in such a small work, eight poems that move through parts of the county, with his “The County South of Belleville” (a reference to Purdy’s infamous “The Country North of Belleville” poem from his 1965 collection The Cariboo Horses) being the strongest and most effective of the whole group, and worth the chapbook alone, while still struggling between the geographic intent of Purdy and the structural interests of Marlatt. Still, I would have liked to see Sokolowski go so much deeper through the county, through the project; these pieces feel as though he has barely begun.

The Country South of Belleville

see this as a vein: the king’s highway, red spat route strung, thru Ontario
cars trucks pumpt thru to Windsor, Toronto, Kingston, the highwaymen always
hiding the blood & keeping surfaces grey & smooth (man woman & child, late nite back
to London, rainswept tarmac, truck they never saw coming

from greyed veins
go to the organs, the places fed, by blood & vine, find the homes, the people,
the poets that lived, there on the shoulders of the Great Lake, there a part of Ontario,
Prince’s County, “God’s country” the grape grower calls it, as if there is god
& he can live like a vine, boots planted in limestone, on a hill, lakewind
sweeping rain away from grapefields, blessing the old,
“fruitbaskets of Ontario,:

old canning towns, now backed by Midtown Meats,
the mushroom & cement plants, the Frenchmen & women flooding sandbanks the wave
spilling greenbacked into Picton (all summer Marcel makes lefthand turns into grocery
store lots & stops just waits, “seen it happen twice last week, fuckers, cant wait
till fall,” & death when the snow comes,

& the ebb, no more income for seasonal shops,
& the island, the County, slips locks onto its bridges, cuts traffic from Deseronto,
Trenton, Belleville, pass the same, money from hand to hand, everything changing
outside, within, Al Purdy’s house up for sale, cattle herded to barns to drink,
the trough water sheltered, the wind quieted by walls.

To find out more about their publications, or their monthly open set readings, check out their website here, or come by the next ottawa small press book fair on June 20th, where they regularly have a table of their recent wares.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Ottawa: The Unknown City

About 100 feet east of Sussex between Clarence and Murray in the Byward Market, the Tin House Court sits in one of a series of courtyards that move parallel to Sussex Drive. Mere feet away from a stone fountain, the tin house front wall was fixed to the side wall of the former Leblanc and Lemay store (upper left in the photo), which, in their time, sold more clothes in their ready-made clothing shop than any other store in Bytown. Taken from a frame house in the 1860s that sat on Guiges Street and put on display a dozen years later, the original house was owned from 1904 to 1913 by Honoré Foisy, a plumber, tinsmith and roofer who clad his entire house in tin. Being economical and weather-resistant, the metal was in common use at the time, but Foisy and his family embellished the porch, pediment, parapet, gazebo and window and door frames in a tin imitation of stone and wood in hundreds of pieces of paper-thin tin.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Capilano Review 3.7 ; LESS IS MORE: The Poetics of Erasure

Recently produced as a collaborative effort between The Capilano Review (as issue 3.7) and SFU Gallery) is “LESS IS MORE: The Poetics of Erasure.” As Ariana Kelly and Bill Jeffries write in the introduction to the issue:

The exhibition of Less Is More: The Poetics of Erasure and the issue of The Capilano Review published on the occasion of the show, emerged from three or four sources. Back in 2006, at the time when the SFU Gallery was already considering an exhibition organized around Tom Phillips’s erasure project A Humument, erasure practice in both Vancouver and Seattle was expanding to the point where it seemed more interesting to explore these local practices along with what Phillips had done. Then, while considering an expanded show, several key parts of Kristin Lucas’s exhibition If lost THEN found at the OR Gallery in late 2006 served as another reminder that artists were erasing almost as frequently as poets. These catalysts suggested that the time was right to introduce erasure to a wider audience through an exhibition and a book. The Less is More… project stakes out a claim for erasure methodologies as an apposite cultural critique at the current political and ecological juncture. Erasure exists in a wide range of forms and it is the purpose of this publication, and the exhibition on which it is based, to explore some of the modes of creative removal undertaken by poets, writers, and artists living and working in the age of information overload.
How does this relate to, say, Gregory Betts’ “Plunderverse,” a variant itself on erasure, but without the obvious spaces between what texts remain, or even a variant on the recombinant works of writers such as Margaret Christakos? The issue includes visual and text works by contributors such as Clint Burnham, Tom Phillips, derek beaulieu, Kristin Lucas, Monica Aasprong, Jen Bervin, Oana Avasilichioaei, Stephen Collis, Erin Moure, Sarah Dowling, Aaron Vidaver, a.rawlings and Alexandra Dipple, as well as a series of notes and statements included at the end of the issue. I’m fascinated by statements written by contributors, and I remember an issue of dANDelion a few years ago (Number 2, Volume 29, “the poetic project.” Calgary AB, 2004) that included the same, by various contributors. What really makes the current slate of statements is how a couple of the contributors, such as beaulieu and Moure, talk not only about their selections in the current issue, but ideas that have been increasing through their own works over the past few year. beaulieu himself starts his very simply: “My writing is taking me further and further from ‘writing.’ Writing has become for me a record of reading.” Writing about her own piece, “Gallerypark,” which became a part of her second poetry collection, feria: a poempark (Toronto ON: Wolsak & Wynn, 2008) [see my review of such here], Montreal poet and translator Oana Avasilichioaei begins her statement with:

I walked into the park. I walked into erasure. The park had been made into architecture. Again and again. The process was homage; the process was violence. Grass to building to rubble to flower trellises to building to waterways to statues to grass. The park was an homage to all the parks it had been, its terrain inscribed and fractured, then partially erased and altered, then inscribed and fractured again. A stream became a meadow became a barrack became a pond. The park was an additive and subtractive accumulation of time and landscape and we sat in its midst, knocking our kneecaps and scraping our shoulders against these fractures. We were strangers, yet we were all marked by the park’s flimsy architectures of time. We ourselves were time, erased and inscribed, always in process.
The issue is also beautifully-produced, including a great deal of visual works, photography and full-colour images, with one of the most attractive journal covers I’ve seen in a long time, with a detail of Jamie Hilder’s “Paths and Places” series. What the issue really highlights is just how much writers and artists, I think, are forced to work with the tools that already exist. There is nothing new under the sun, certainly, and sometimes the only response to using all the known words and images and ideas that exist in the world that everyone else also has access to is to find new ways to move them around, conceptualize them, and, through the arrangement, find new ways to speak out of the old.


Snowy Owl. Snowy Owl. Other Snowy Owl. More in former times to show of the without. Owl for. Ermine Owl. For white ermine for the it on ermine. Owl. White Owl. The White Owl. for this owl. For its White Owl its White Terror of the North for its with of the. Is not only the North owl, one of the most owls in the entire. From there is only two other within its for it. One of these is the Owl, in its, some to the Snowy Owl. The Owl, however, is tufts in the Snowy Owl, more the other to some is the White is with more. The Willow in its winter the Snowy Owl. in the Snowy Owl is white, more or less with see. Rest. The Snowy Owl is most often seen on the or on rise (when it to on low of). It very smooth – there tufts, the very. It in the stiffly so often the Owls to its well sometimes to the the even lower on the. It sits never on its the more White. Eyes Vision. The vision of the Snowy Owl is of other North owl, in the most. This owl lemon-yellow the eyes set to the of the in other, they will more often not they to the or or, to some, or even when the owl its eyes in. (a.rawlings, “from The Owls of the North”)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

VERSE magazine, Vols. 24 + 25;

We can only seek a sentence by means of another sentence.
Pierre Alferi, “from To Seek a Sentence,” trans. Anna Moschovakis, Verse, Vol. 24, Nos. 1-3
The editors of the American journal Verse (produced through the Department of English at the University of Richmond in Richmond, Virginia) were nice enough to send me copies of their two most recent issues a while back, Volume 24, Nos. 1-3 (2007), produced as their “French Poetry & Poetics” issue, and Volume 25, Nos. 1-3 (2008), produced as their “The Sequence (II)” issue. Headed by editors (and poets themselves) Brian Henry and Andrew Zawacki, these impressive annuals are packed with writing, interviews and reviews, and make me wonder just how I’ve been living so long without going through this journal, and certainly make their way onto my list of American literary journal “must haves,” along with P-Queue, FENCE and The Chicago Review (there are probably others I can’t think of right now). The first volume of the two exists almost as a continuation of the conversation started a few days ago when I talked about going through issues of sentence: a journal of prose poetics, since the prose poem is so much more prevalent in French writing than in North American writing. The issue, edited by Abigail Long and Zawacki, consists of a great amount of writing, as well as interviews with Dominique Fourcade and Claude Royet-Journoud, and reviews and essays by various writers, including Nathalie Stephens, Rusty Morrison and Eleni Sikelianos. In her review of Two Worlds: French and American Poetry in Translation (ed. Béatrice Mousli, Otis Books/Seismicity Editions), Canadian expatriate writer Nathalie Stephens, who has written on translation and done much of her own, begins:

The question of language’s intimate relationship to nationhood, and to violence as such, continues to demand consideration. The implied causality of as such, in addition to the suggestion of an ontology of violence, necessitates explication, gives pause to this consideration, that is, suspends it spatially, temporally, between the carefully determined boundaries that distinguish languages from one another and the nations – nationalities, nationalisms – to which they adhere. In and of themselves.

That the act of translation may interpose itself as deconstructive, that it may detach – although by no means necessarily – a language from its nationalistic discourse, suggests the possibility of an engagement that determinedly crosses borders, and may do more than cross, but dismantle them in the process, or at very least resituate them, expose their mobility. Process is the admission of flux, of movement, of mutability, of a gesture that is always already in motion, the emotion of which is itself, may be, transforming. And the many and various bodies with it: textual, geographical, linguistic, national, and so on.
One of the highlights has to be the opening piece by Emmanuel Hocquard, trans. Steve Evans and Jennifer Moxley, his “Notes by Way of an Introduction,” that traces the history of his own relationship with American poetry.
1980, my first extended stay (six months) in the United States, where I make the acquaintance of Claude Richard. The beginning of our friendship.

I make my way to San Francisco, where I meet Michael Palmer at Robert Duncan’s. Larry Eigner at Robert Grenier’s, George Oppen, Carl Rakosi, Barrett Watten and Carla Harryman, Lyn Heginian, Tom Mandel, and others. Apologies to those I’ve forgotten to mention.

I became conscious of the possibilities for a productive relationship (based on numerous shared ideas and similar approaches to the problems of writing) between French and American poets of the same generation. But, excluding a small handful of initiates who, owing to their travels abroad and friendship circles, can keep up to date with what their contemporaries on the other side of the Atlantic are thinking and writing, the vast majority of us are at the mercy of rare anthologies and translations published in magazines. And even these resources are inadequate, bringing the news – especially in the case of anthologies – one, and sometimes many, generations too late.
I wonder, is this, perhaps, why the United States has more of a relationship with the prose poem than Canada does? Was it through the forging of such relationships between writing/writers?


If I skipped a day, would there be
a song? Let the cat do it, stretched
on the bed, sprawled against me, not wary
for once. Let the print of a print of a print
Dore once did
do it, there on the wall, angels in the dark
coming at me off a ship in those waters,
the 19th century endless and adrift
and never light enough to see. Let the three
doors of this room open to it. Let the laundry basket
overflow with it. Let the books piled
whichever way and too many
do it, cry aubade, cry
word no one knows anymore,
its little scheme to stop time
almost stopped. Let my tea
do it, a hit of milk, no sugar. Am I done
with this? Am I? Day that will pass
and not be remembered, lighter
than its air.
Marianne Boruch, “Seven Aubades for Summer,” Verse, Vol. 25, Nos. 1-3

The second volume was produced as their second issue on “The Sequence,” with works by Rosmarie Waldrop, Kate Fagan, John Kinsella, Rusty Morrison, David Wojahn and more than a dozen others (including John Matthias, a poet Lea Graham has been trying to get me to read lately), as well as interviews with Theodore Enslin and Morrison, and a slate of the usual book reviews (one has to admire the journal, if for no other reason, than their impressive collection of book reviews in every issue). The wonderful sequence by Corinne Lee, “Those Discernible Coonskin Caps,” had an openness and movement that reminded me of my favourite of Toronto poet Jay MillAr’s recent works, but would be impossible to replicate here, and there was just something about Marianne Boruch’s “Seven Aubades for Summer” that really struck, but I couldn’t say why.
This is the book I’d mentioned I’d been meaning to write. The one with the laughing person in it. I blush. A chamber pot, various basins at the end of a rope. A revolving door. It is true that I enclosed the scene with a fence. There was no center, but I wanted to say something about a trip. About color. About two bodies, a thigh, the platform of the present. Citrus trees, the very real smell of lemon zest. In it, I do something funny, you are pleased. Touching ensues. I feed you. But I have tried in vain to affix the lemon to the page. The peel has gone soft. What matters is matter. I hope you are not embarrassed to read this.
Anthony Hawley, “Autobiography/Oughtabiography,” Verse, Vol. 25, Nos. 1-3
After reading for years the Canadian sequence, it’s interesting to see how various American writers work their own versions of same, and it makes me intrigued to see what they did for their earlier issue on such. What did this magnificent journal do before these?

How simply words cluster,
love and death, maroon resolve
folding to a page.

The soles of feet are elegant originals.

I am driven to absurdity
by such pained law, a large O,
our temples of delivery and exit.

Awareness comes in material shades,
owl in the hedge for instance.
Kate Fagan, “Observations on Time, Cargo,” Verse, Vol. 25, Nos. 1-3

What really makes this issue interesting is the range of styles being covered through these twenty sequences, giving a good show as to what the form is capable of, and through such, giving their own statements on what the form can do. Still, it would have been interesting to have another interview or two; or am I just spoiled from reading various editions of The Long Poem Anthology, with each writer a statement at the back of the volume on their individual piece? The closest the volume comes is through the interview with Enslin, where he talks about his 2004 poetry collection Nine (National Poetry Foundation):
Actually my reason for calling the collection of what I consider my best late sequences Nine was much more simplistic than any scholastic thinking. There are nine of these, and there is an old superstition among composers, from Beethoven on, that nine symphonies are all that a composer can produce. Superstition, yes, but certainly there are a number of topflight examples: Schubert, Bruckner, Mahler, Dvorak. I won’t deny that I later thought of nein and eine, but that was merely for my own amusement.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Four novels: Bennett, Kidd, Sparling, Ondaatje

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading far more fiction than poetry, working through various ideas of prose as I put the finishing touches on my second novel, due out this fall. Now that the (hopefully) worst of my recent stint with bronchitis is over, here’s some of what I’ve been dipping into lately.

The first I’ll mention is Jonathan Bennett’s novel Entitlement (Toronto ON: ECW Press, 2008), a lovely hardcover book that had been months sitting atop my filing cabinet, in the corner of my office. I’ve known Bennett for years, but this is the first book of his fiction I’ve read, despite being his second novel and third book of fiction after Verandah People (2003) and After Battersea Park (2001), as well as a poetry collection from the same publisher, Here is my street, this tree I planted (2004). I usually don’t find plot-driven, narrative heavy novels my thing, but Entitlement is a compelling and well-constructed novel, each fragment revealing only as much as Bennett needs, piece by revealing piece, bringing you in quickly, and then keeping you there. This is a mystery that isn’t a mystery, writing the story of Andy Kronk, a man who has managed, somehow, a “clean break” after a lifetime intertwined with one of Canada’s wealthiest families, the Aspinalls. Triggered by a journalist working to write a “tell-all” biography of the family, Andy Kronk starts to tell his story, and very soon, ends up telling too much, about the Aspinall patriarch, Stuart, to Stuart’s grown children, Colin and Fiona, and just how intertwined their lives had become.

Stuart Aspinall stepped off the cobblestone pathway and onto the dewy lawn. The hill before him faded to the lake’s edge at Huntington House. He padded his way toward the cream-coloured boathouse, his leather oxfords black and shiny, hands casually in the pockets of his suit pants. It was an unseasonably warm day. At least it was when he felt the direct sun on his clean-shaven cheeks and neck. He had removed his jacket and tie, left them in the foyer of the house.

He often came down here to think before dinner. It was the half-hour a day – not every day but often enough – that he saved for himself. Reaching the boathouse, he sat on the burgundy Muskoka chair angled at the lake’s centre. The lap of the water against the dock was rhythmical. Far away a loon called out. Light wind played the branches of the firs down the way.

Lately, he’d felt the unease. Felt it deepening within him. He knew its source and cause too well. It was almost as old as Colin himself. A chronic, imprecise hurt that a woman might call heartache. He chose, long ago, not to address it directly. Rather he monitored it, weighed it, and negotiated it down, always down, into a manageable size. If it were true that the child was lost to him, and it sadly was, then he had always supposed that one did what one must, to go on. To cope, as it were. Why did the two of them engage in such emotional sport that had no clear rules and never ended? Fact: Colin is an Aspinall. That cannot be changed. So he mustn’t hurt the family, or weaken the name.
How does he do it? Most books like this don’t have the clear craft that Bennett clearly does; plot-driven novels are often devoid of real skill when it comes to language, even falling to lines that work themselves barely over their own function from point A to point B, unable to keep some readers from skipping over whole passages, whole pages, just to get back to the action, but Bennett is able to keep the music of each line subtle, underscored. He manages the music of the line in such a way that you can barely hear it, but know it is there, helping the movement of the story itself along.

After reading her recent any other woman: an uncommon biography (Edmonton AB: NeWest Press, 2008) [see my note on such here], I found a copy of Newfoundland writer Monica Kidd’s second novel, The Momentum of Red (Vancouver BC: Polestar, 2004), which, unfortunately, the author recently told me had been remaindered. Is this what now happens to books? Kidd’s novel goes back and forth through two sides of a relationship between a father and daughter, watching Randy and Mary from different points in their lives, what brought them to this present. We watch as Randy starts his relationship with Mary’s mother, marries and carries on, loses his wife in childbirth, and further on, as the years progress. The other thread exists in the present day with adult Mary, still living with her father, who hangs out with her friends, has a job, and meets a man who she eventually moves in with, and where that eventually ends. Here is the little prologue to her novel, written from the father’s perspective:


My little girl came into this world glowing with the finality of love, pulled hot and slick from a pool of blood. Her mother lying there, the sweat cooling in the heavy curls over her eyes, her ears, the weight of her sinking lifeless into that steel table, gone from this world. All I could think of was that blistered old statue in the church. Heartsick Mary, weeping at the feet of Jesus. So that’s what I named her. I kissed her mother goodbye, hushed my little girl and named her Mary, and took her by the hand into the world.

I knew then that nothing would ever come between us.
I like the way this book moves back and forth between stories, telling us exactly why the Randy of today, for example, reacts in a particular way, showing us a story of what happened to him ten years, twenty years, twenty-five years earlier, and the stories his daughter might never know, or simply doesn’t know yet. I like the way this book moves gracefully and with great ease between difficult moments, a collage of photographs written in an order not out of order but not entirely straightforward, resulting in an impressive album. With this novel remaindered, will she have any choice but to write another one?

A while ago, I read Toronto author Ken Sparling's [A novel by Ken Sparling] (Toronto ON: Pedlar Press, 2003) [see my note on such here], the author of the previous novels Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall (New York NY: Knopf, 1996) and Hush Up and Listen Stinky Poo Butt (self-made by author upon request), books I haven’t managed to get my little hands on yet. What I have read recently is his more recent novel For Those Whom God Has Blessed with Fingers (Pedlar Press, 2005).

I lost my pen at 4:34 p.m. I knew where it was. In a puddle. Near the curb. On Bay Street. North of Bloor. I have a gift. I know where every pen I ever owned is.

At first I thought this was cool. I told all my friends. Showed off. Threw my pens away. Dropped them into potholes. Swallowed them. Shit them out. Flushed them. Days later, I went and found them.

Then I got to wondering. Was I squandering what God had given me? Maybe I should try to use this gift. Do something good.

I went to get my pen from the puddle on Bay Street. Saw a man enter the sub shop at Cumberland. His clean well-lighted face clear of any fear. His woman passing through the sub shop door behind him.

What a strange little novel this is; I’d like to learn more about this Ken Sparling. Presumably a response to his publisher’s request for catalogue/book copy, he wrote this short blurb, subsequently placed on the back of this book: “There is no way to describe the book, short of writing the entire thing out by hand. I have put a great deal of loving devotion into creating something that is just itself and I do everything I can to foil the evil plans of villains determined to summarize and label everything they lay their eyes and minds upon.” What makes Sparling’s writing, and thus this novella, interesting, is in how the book can claim to essentially be about everything and about nothing at the same time, writing about the world, about thinking, about human relationships, and about writing itself, and how books are made, wandering from fragment to fragment in ways that fool the mind into thinking they’re disconnected, and then fool the mind further by putting them together into a single unit. I think this is a magnificent and difficult work, and would like Sparling to write another one, so I can have something for my own writing to aspire to.

As I pick up my book, I know something. Each time I pick up my book, I know. I have knowledge. Un-deconstructable knowledge. Knowledge that fully resists analysis. Carnal in that respect. At best, I can muster a temporary bravado concerning this knowledge, a false platform above the abyss constructed of the knowledge that I can never know. I can fake it with conviction for a time, in other words. I can stand. Walk. Polish an apple. Even take that first bite.
After rereading Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion (1986), perhaps one of my most favourite novels, a year after rereading his Coming Through Slaughter (1976) [see my note on same here], I decided I should pick up his more recent Anil’s Ghost (2000), another book relegated unread for years, stacked on a bookshelf in my kitchen. In Anil’s Ghost, all the regular Ondaatje constructions held, his forceful, illuminating and elegant lyric prose, his sensual passages, a character working through the bonds of her own history, and a savvy political undertow that doesn’t overtake any part of a narrative that exists in a pastiche of characters, settings, and points-of-view. Yet why doesn’t this book strike as much as some of his earlier works? Why do I care for everything he’s doing, but somehow, the whole doesn’t hold together the sum of its magnificent parts? (I’ve heard mixed things about the last novel too.) Still, is there something I’m missing?

She arrived in early March, the plane landing at Katunayake airport before the dawn. They had raced it ever since coming over the west coast of India, so that now passengers stepped onto the tarmac in the dark.

By the time she was out of the terminal the sun had risen. In the West she’d read, The dawn comes up like thunder, and she knew she was the only one in the classroom to recognize the phrase physically. Though it was never abrupt thunder to her. It was first of all the noise of chickens and carts and modest morning rain or a man squeakily cleaning the windows with newspaper in another part of the house.

As soon as her passport with the light-blue UN bar was processed, a young official approached and moved alongside her. She struggled with her suitcases but he offered no help.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Litmags threatened by new funding guidelines

Litmags threatened by new funding guidelines
February 20, 2009 6:34 PM By Stuart Woods

The Harper Tories have promised to maintain existing funding levels for the country’s magazine industry ($75.5-million annually), but guidelines announced this week for the new Canada Periodical Fund could put Canada’s small-run literary magazines in jeopardy.

The new Canadian Heritage-run program merges two other federal funding bodies the Canada Magazine Fund and the Publications Assistance Program in an effort to streamline operations and tie support of the periodical sector to “the reading choices of Canadians.” This new system won’t become a reality until at least 2010, but when it does, funds will be allocated using a formula based on paid circulation, and magazines with less than 5,000 annual subscribers will be shut out altogether.

The new formula would be a huge blow to the small number of literary publishers that depend on Heritage to survive, including respected journals such as The Literary Review of Canada, The Malahat Review, and Matrix, which have typically received annual subsidies ranging from about $15,000 to $20,000. As it currently stands, the minimum circulation requirement would exclude “pretty much every literary and arts magazine in the country,” says editor Andris Taskans, whose Winnipeg quarterly Prairie Fire relies on Heritage money for a significant portion of its operating budget and about half of its postage costs.

Taskans says the new guidelines are a deliberate “slap in the face to small magazines,” and that he would like to see the special status of literary magazines restored. Says Matrix editor-in-chief Jon Paul Fiorentino, whose magazine has published early works by authors like Heather O’Neill and Pasha Malla, "There’s value to what we do beyond the number of readers we get per issue.”

According to the Canadian Heritage release, the department is still finalizing the guidelines, so there’s still room to have them revised, if not removed completely. “People have to be realistic that there will be some form of minimum,”says Mark Jamison, CEO of the trade group Magazines Canada, “so the question is, how do we manage a specific challenge for a very specialized sector?”

Jamison believes there's reasonable hope that Heritage will ease its restriction on small magazines if the literary community succeeds in bringing its message to Ottawa.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

sentence: a journal of prose poetics

My father liked a bad joke
with a Japanese prisoner
over a makeshift fire
better than his own barrack.

He never spoke
of the celebrated
Daibutsu Buddha.
New Year after the Emperor’s surrender, on the Nara to Osaka train. My father strikes up a conversation, in pidgin, with a Japanese couple, smokes cigarettes with them, jokes with their little boy. Hands him a chocolate bar like he’s bucking for “B” battery’s Good Samaritan Medal. God knows he’s grateful there was no landing, as planned, on southern Honshu, with him on the front line and 90 percent casualties a “given.” Nineteen at the time, he only wants to go home to York, Pennsylvania, teach high school history, watch Laurel and Hardy at the Saturday matinee. He believes in the Emerson Emerson would have him believe, and as luck would have it, is one of the few Gis in the 368th field artillery who wouldn’t have a go with her when the husband grins and says to him “My wifu…you pom-pom,” grinding his right fist in his left hand so my father cannot take his meaning wrong. (Steve Myers, “Haibun for Smoke and Fog,” Sentence #5)

Lately I’ve been fortunate enough to go through five of the first six issues of the annual sentence: a journal of prose poetics published by firewheel editions out of Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, Connecticut, and edited by Brian Clemens. As the back cover states, one of the objectives of the journal is, along with continuing the previous work started by Peter Johnson’s The Prose Poem: an International Journal, to “publish work that extends our conception of what the ‘prose poem’ is or can be.” I’m intrigued by this, since the category of “prose poem” seems far more prevalent in American writing than it does in Canadian (although note the pieces in issue four by Ottawa-born Margaret Atwood). Could this simply because the movement here hasn’t been tracked? Each issue reads almost like a complete unit, publishing new writing that move into a range of what the “prose poem” could be, being far more than a poem without line breaks (for example). Is this what David W. McFadden or Stuart Ross would be doing if they were American writers? I know Gary Barwin has certainly done some interesting pieces here and there, and I’m sure I could think of plenty of other examples of Canadians working the same if I really thought about it. The piece above, for example, reminds of some exceptional haibun done by Fred Wah and bpNichol. As Johnson himself writes in his introduction to the fourth issue of sentence:

Thirteen years ago, I couldn’t give away a copy of The Prose Poem: An International Journal, and very few books of prose poetry were being published. Those of us who were writing those unpublished books used to share rejection letters, rating them according to levels of stupidity. But things have changed. Last year two first books of prose poems received, respectively, the Walt Whitman Award and the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize; and three out of the last give James Laughlin Award winners were books that consisted mostly, or exclusively, of prose poems. Nowadays, it’s hard to find a book of poetry that doesn’t include a prose poem or two. The recent rise of the prose poem is the best and worst thing that has happened to American poetry. The best because poets now feel comfortable moving between prose and verse, the worst because prose poems are multiplying faster than cockroaches, and, in this respect, quantity doesn’t equal quality. Maybe this proliferation of prose poetry accounts for why so many poets are disassociating themselves from the genre by inventing more names for what they’re writing than by Book of Slang has for “penis” and “vagina”: microfictions, poetic prose, short-shorts, narratologies, and so on.
We might not have the same hold to “prose poems,” but I can certainly attest to the prevalence over the past decade or two to Canadians writing “short shorts,” “postcard fiction” and other small version of the same, coming often to the same conclusions but from the directions of fiction.
My mother told me if you bury something in the backyard, a toy truck or a small metal soldier, you will not find it there two weeks later. She said the sand is always moving, cycling—that the stone you find near the fig tree is from China or Istanbul. That the toy soldier will reappear 50 years later, slightly wet, salty. (Michaela Kahn, “If I ring my body like a bell of coins, will the shock waves of that sound cause oil rigs & volcanoes to erupt?” Sentence #6)
In the sixth and most recent issue, one of the works that really stood out had to be by Illinois poet Amy Newman, writing her “prose poems” as a series of cover letters, each written as though they were stand-alone, ignoring the rest, and have a magnificent blend of form and function. Does this mean the work she writes about (mentioned not here but in the other letters, supposedly sent into the journal for consideration) doesn’t exist?

Brian Clemens, Editor
Box 7 / Western Connecticut State University
181 White St.
Danbury, CT 06810

6 October

Dear Editor:

This morning when I went out to collect the leaves from the back deck, the slope of the yard was unconvincing and nameless. How am I supposed to know enough to make something happen on a page that will convince me of anything? And then a red tailed hawk creased the eye vision and startled a show of darkish squirrels who were hunting acorns the big tree had lost from its moorings of fantail leaves. And the world parted its curtains, its scratchy and difficult weave, and a deer entered from stage left. Everything could have been still, and remained still, under a blank page of cloud and above the random field of unconcern that is where I live, and I would yet be there absorbing the about-to-happen, until I wrestled in my head with presentation, and the deer noticed my breathing; a pinioned ear swung brown cones and dials and the curtains began their snap shut. But the deer’s coat glossed like a television, and a kind of word appeared on its side, some series of symbols I could have used to tell you. My mechanisms clacked and bent but the pattern on the brown body didn’t speak in our easy and flattened alphabet. Instead, it showed glare and depth, something dimensional and respiratory, which music and a story behind it, the etymology of person meeting deer, it maintained several possibilities at once, and sustained—if I had had a Motorola V620 © phone with Integrated 300K camera with 4X zoom at the ready, the poem about the world could have been taken as it was rendered in that deer’s word-like body. Whatever it knew and showed in creamy gloss I could not cipher or translate or hold. It swifted with something like or disdain into the back of the world behind the house.

Thank you for your consideration, and for reading. I have enclosed an SASE, and look forward to hearing from you.


Amy Newman

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Ottawa: The Unknown City

You might not know this, but the National Arts Centre - Centre national des Arts is built over the spot where the Russell Theatre opened on Elgin Street in 1897. The original Russell Theatre provided 1,500 seats, 10 private boxes and 4 loge boxes, becoming the centre of the serious arts in Ottawa, but was later destroyed by fire on April 7, 1901. Quickly rebuilt as the New Russell Opera House, it existed for nearly two decades more, providing a venue for visiting troupes from around the world, before the building was expropriated by the Federal District Commission to make way for Confederation Park (now Confederation Square). The New Russell Opera House had its last showing on April 14, 1928, despite an outcry from many prominent citizens, and the city's only legitimate theatre was finally destroyed. The current building is set slightly to the south of the previous, an idea set forth by then-Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson to establish a national centre for the performing arts. Despite the fact that his idea for a new theatre was almost universally dismissed, it was finally approved in 1963, opening May 31, 1969 as The National Arts Centre.

Among numerous other events over the decades, the first few years of the Ottawa International Writers Festival (which started back in 1997) also occurred in the National Arts Centre building, and I could tell you a whole bunch of extremely good stories involving, say, Dany Laferriere, Michael Hartnett, Clare Latremouille, jwcurry, Robert McLiam Wilson, Lynn Crosbie, Will Ferguson, Michael Turner, Dermot Healy, Patrick Watson and perhaps others, but some parts of festival remain at festival.

Built well before the Russell Theatre, there was Her Majesty's Theatre, built in Wellington Street between O'Connor and Bank in 1854; renamed The Prince of Wales in 1860 to commemorate his visit to Ottawa that year, in 1866 it returned to previous name. In 1863, the theatre folded and in 1870 the building became the home of The Times Printing and Publishing. The Family Theatre itself, on Queen Street east of Bank, began showing feature-length films in 1912.

I have never understood the government small-mindedness when it comes to refusing to pay for anything arts-related. Don’t they know that every single study says that a dollar spent on the arts returns ten-fold to the community? A billion dollars was spent in Ottawa by tourists in 2004; how many of those people do you think were coming to visit, say, Nortel?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ottawa: The Unknown City

In case you didn’t know, the Cold War was invented at 511 Somerset Street West, in the apartment building beside the beer store. Don’t believe it? On September 5, 1945, Russian born Igor Gouzenko, posted to the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa in 1943 as a cypher clerk, defected by walking into the offices of The Ottawa Journal. He brought with him 109 carefully selected documents establishing conclusively the existence of a Soviet spy ring in North America. As a result of the defection of Igor Gouzenko, in February of the following year, a royal commission was appointed to investigate charges of Russian spying. The most harrowing part came when Gouzenko, with his wife and child, after convincing a neighbour that they couldn’t stay in their own apartment that night, witnessed the KGB as they broke down his door and ransacked the Gouzenko apartment, finding nothing. In 2003, a plaque for Gouzenko (who was quickly hidden with his family with a new identity by the Canadian government) was erected in Dundonald Park (informally known as “the beer park”) across from his former home. Gouzenko died in June 1982, still living under an assumed name in Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto. A film, The Iron Curtain (1948), was made based on his book of the same name, and he even appeared as himself (hooded) on an episode of the Canadian current affairs trivia program, Front Page Challenge, in February 1958.

One part of the Igor Gouzenko story that most miss is the fact that, when he tried to defect, no Canadian government officials actually seemed to care, including then-Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. It took Canadian spy and Winnipeg native William Stephenson, called "Intrepid" by Sir Winston Churchill during the Second World War (yes, that "Intrepid"), to see the importance of immediately securing Gouzenko and his family, and setting him up in safe locations around the country with a new identity. Known for originally setting up the infamous Camp X training centre for spies on the shores of Lake Ontario, William Stephenson was also the model for Ian Fleming's 007 spy, James Bond (they ended up being neighbours in Jamaica, after Stephenson had retired).

According to a recent book, Amy Knight's How the Cold War Began: The Gouzenko Affair and the Hunt for Soviet Spies (2005), Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King even tried to ignore Igor Gouzenko's defection (naively presuming Stalin couldn’t have known about or been involved in this intricate spy network), hoping for a quiet diplomatic solution instead, before eventually taking credit for his own bravery and quick thinking after the whole mess had been resolved. Unfortunately, all this did on the Soviet end was make them rethink their entire espionage network, therefore making them stronger, and more effective.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Paul Tyler & Shane Rhodes at the Factory Reading Series

lovingly hosted by rob mclennan
as part of the Factory Reading Series at the Ottawa Art Gallery
Thursday, March 26
Arts Court, 2 Daly Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario K1N 6E2 Canada
doors 7pm, reading 7:30pm

readings by:

Paul Tyler (Ottawa)
& Shane Rhodes (Ottawa)
author bios:

Paul Tyler’s poems have recently appeared in The Malahat Review, Grain, Prism International, and The Minnesota Review. In 2004 he won Byron’s Quill Award for Poetry. He received an honourable mention in the 2005 Bliss Carman Award, and won first place in the Being at Work Poetry Challenge in 2006. He was an associate editor with Arc Poetry Magazine from 2004-2008 and works as a library reference assistant.
Shane Rhodes’ most recent book of poetry, The Bindery, was published by NeWest Press in Spring 2007 and won the Lampman-Scott Award for poetry. His first book, The Wireless Room (2000, NeWest Press), won the Alberta Book Award for poetry, and his second book, Holding Pattern (2002, NeWest Press) also won the Lampman-Scott Award for poetry. As well as appearing in magazines across Canada, Shane’s poetry is featured in the anthologies Breathing Fire II, Seminal: Canada’s Gay Male Poets, Best Canadian Poetry in English 2008, and Best Gay Poetry 2008. Shane was also recently awarded The Malahat Review 2009 P. K. Page Founder's Award for Poetry.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Ottawa: The Unknown City

It might not look like it once did, due to the construction, but this building has been home to a whole range of great art over the years, originally said to be a hardware store by some, and a grocery store by others, this building at the corner of Bank and Lisgar Street was built in the early 1900s currently houses the main location for the family business Wallack's Art Supplies. Opened in 1939 by Samuel Wallack (before he took over the business next door and expanded), his son, John moved the business into its current location in 1977, and now boasts eight locations around Ottawa, Gatineau and Kingston, as well as Wallack's Gallery (203 Bank Street) just down from the supplies. Just above Wallack's is Invisible Cinema (391 Lisgar Street, upstairs, 237-0769), a gallery space that doubles as a video and dvd film rental, including some of the best offbeat titles you can't usually find at the big chains. Their current space previously housed artist-run centre Gallery 101 during their 1980s heyday of artistic director Dennis Tourbin, with regular performances by avant-garde writers from across Canada and beyond, hosted by Ottawa's Experimental Writers Group (EWG; Rob Manery and Louis Cabri) under the name The Transparency Machine. Both have gone on to do further events in other cities, as Cabri headed to Philadelphia in 1994, where he hosted the reading/internet series Phillytalks, and Manery left in 1996 for Vancouver and the Kootenay School of Writing. Before Gallery 101, the space was used as a bookstore space owned/operated by the late Ottawa writer and photographer Richard Simmons (no, not that Richard Simmons), who was also a curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery in the 1960s; Simmons was not only known as the first curator of a public space to purchase work by Greg Curnoe, but he was also around for the beginnings of 3cent pulp (the pamphlet precursor to Arsenal Pulp Press), with the later version, Pulp Press, even publishing his novel, Sweet Marie. Back when it was still a gallery, it was where I started my "poetry 101" series around 1995 or so, what eventually developed into The Factory Reading Series in the next Gallery 101 location on Nepean Street, and since moved to the Ottawa Art Gallery, hosting readings (and even a launch of my former writing & visual art magazine, Missing Jacket) by Sheri-D Wilson, RM Vaughan, David Scrimshaw, Joe Blades, Grant Shipway, Dayv James-French, Jim Larwill, Sean Johnston, Catherine Jenkins, Christopher McPherson, David O'Meara, Tamara Fairchild, David Collins, Michelle Desberats and others.

The apartments on the second and third floors of the building are beautiful hardwood floor studios, have housed a number of writers and artists over the years (as well as filmmakers, a paleontologist and a stand up comic), both as living and working spaces, including the poet Michael Dennis, and artists of all sorts over the years, including former and current residents Dan Sharp, Jennifer Dickson, Jeff Wannacott, Richard Nigro, David Cation, David Cooper, Andrew Farrell and Adrian Göllner. I could even mention the short film that never got finished, a whole Sunday afternoon of Ralph Gethings' film shoot around 2002, the camera catching the action of two characters driving by in a car, and me as the devil, smoking a cigarette while standing on Lisgar Street, just outside the Bible shop…

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ottawa: The Unknown City

There is a story of the late poet John Newlove still living in Vernon, British Columbia with his wife Susan in 1986, and being told by his doctor, if you keep drinking like this, you'll be dead in six months. He called his friend John Metcalf in Ottawa for help, who, through his wife Myrna, got him an interview at the Department of Official Languages, housed in one of the two office towers of L'Esplanade Laurier, at the corner of Laurier and Bank. Of course he showed up drunk off the plane, and Metcalf had to clean him up before the interview, which he managed to ace. Newlove worked there from 1986 just up to the point of his stroke in 2003, and Colin Morton's wife, the writer Mary Lee Bragg, has stories of cartoons that he liked from the New Yorker, that Newlove would fax to her office in another part of the same building.

I used to see him regularly get off the #2 bus at Bank and Gloucester, back when I wrote in the Dunkin' Donuts every day, as he would see me, nod and even wave his cane before he slowly made further way. He even came in once or twice to visit, but those moments were rare. Once he did, and my friend b stephen harding already visiting, asking John to explain Monty Python to him, a humour he has yet to comprehend. John paused, and told bruce to imagine a group of world war one soldiers in a trench about to go over the top, and one private had an umbrella instead of a rifle. When asked about this by his superior, the private replied, but sir, what if it rains?

Monday, February 09, 2009

Ongoing notes: early February 2009

How long is it since I’ve done one of these? Perhaps too long; part of it, is the fact that I’m just not getting anyone mailing me chapbooks or books as often lately, getting far more from Americans than from Canadians; why do my own country-people keep not sending me what they make? At least I still have a few that remember I’m here.

Otherwise, check out these events happening over the next little bit; also, I’m hoping to start making a slew of above/ground press items soon, so be sure to check out 2009 subscription rates if you haven’t already. Did you see the new blog that New York poet Rachel Zucker started with her pal Arielle Greenberg? Did you see here, CanCult just found out about my Ottawa: The Unknown City? By now, you’ve already seen the new issue of ottawater, the first issue of seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics and the ALBERTA SERIES, yes? Or the interview I did with Sachiko Murakami? (and did you know she had a blog?) Or Peter Simpson, who apparently liked my novel?

Hamilton ON: Don’t let anyone convince you that nothing ever happens in Hamilton, Ontario. Remember, David W. McFadden, Adam Getty and Marcus McCann are from there, and its still the home to writer and musician Gary Barwin [he reads in Ottawa through Max Middle’s A B Series on February 20 with Gregory Betts, another Hamilton ex-pat]. Barwin was good enough to send me a little envelope of goodies, including his new chapbook inverting the deer (serif of nottingham, 2008). I’ve always said, if David W. McFadden and Stuart Ross could have a baby together, it would have been Gary Barwin, somewhere in the middle of their mix of straight talk, deflection and surrealism.

The Life of Complicated Apes

I clean the city
with my broom


we can take our hearts and go
we can go bowling
down the dark tongues
of the city’s streets

they are clean

Barwin has been publishing books and chapbooks for years, including publications through Proper Tales Press, Coach House Books and The Mercury Press, as well as through his own serif of nottingham. Does anyone remember when he used to publish new material every six months, just in time for the Toronto Small Press Fair?

St. Catharine’s ON: At the edge of the province is PRECIPICe, a journal of poetry, fiction and artwork out of Brock University, formerly known as Harpweaver, but morphed through new directions led by editors Gregory Betts, Adam Dickinson and Mathew Martin. Now into Volume 16, No. 1, the new issue features work by such as Karen Mac Cormack, Steve McCaffery, Maureen Hynes, Stan Dragland, Megan A. Volpert, Domenico Capilongo, David Fujino and Barry Dempster. Does anyone else get the feeling these boys are working to pick up some of the vacancy left by the late great Queen Street Quarterly? I really like what the magazine has been accomplishing since the name/regime change a couple of years back, including the fragment from Dragland’s new novel, The Drowned Lands (Pedlar, 2008) and some pretty interesting visual works by Kelly Mark, but geez, fellas, doesn’t this issue seem a bit boy-heavy?

shockers and struts

surrounded by that which is not pertaining
no seamless sigh to infracted
page count or asthma’s resident
outline of years ending in an even number
images wander as we do
amid a temporal movement’s Algodones Dunes
this infinity of forming releases
the tenses beyond grammar, furcation, connection
lift as ascent’s in visible verb
layers inform themselves of resonance
but “if speech then sound” resumes the problematical
distribution so unequal (not as in another “rainy day”)
this date that letter (multiples and date)
the Ides of March is where to
kiss again the hungry present
so meet my invention’s
“escape limited” as a-walking not just yet
line a Dark Lady might perceive for
cadence not visible’s music doesn’t remain
so still (Karen Mac Cormack)

Montreal QC: In Montreal, there’s a brand-new publisher making exquisite handmade hardcover poetry chapbooks, WithWordsPress, with its first three titles THE FRUIT MAN and other poems by Jason Camlot (2008) with artwork by J.R. Carpenter [Camlot reads this Thursday at the Ottawa Art Gallery as part of the Factory Reading Series], Pants with Pockets: Poems by Chris Masson (2007) and A Tender Invention: Poems by Gillian Sze (2008), with illustrations by Roberutsu.

Lost Days

The Victorian period is alive today.
The sandwich men are lurking in the streets.
They invented new machines for thrashing wheat,
hammers for pummeling men back into clay,
systems to guarantee that workers pay
with lacerated hands and blistered feet.
Victorian children learned to cheat
properly, to apologize always
when battling other children to the death.
A was for Asylum, B for Bricks, C
for Crimean War. Victorian breath
was just like ours, but lacey. Believe me
when I say they prayed with words like “Saith.”
Their deeds shall live on for eternity. (Jason Camlot)

With the disappearance of other chapbook presses such as Delirium Press and the oft-loved Ga Press, Montreal needs new chapbook publishing every so often, and these are lovely little books. But with only three in two years, how often are these books coming out? Of the three, the most intriguing was the chapbook by Gillian Sze, partly because the illustrations by Winnipeg artist Roberutsu made the publication. I’m also intrigued by some of what Sze is doing, working a form that perhaps could be better suited to prose than to poetry, exampled best in her haibun:

(a haibun)

It was a morning when his mother discovered the scratches on his back. He had just taken three steps from the bathroom, his towel draped low on his hips, when from beyond him he heard the sizzle of potatoes and his mother screech out, Demons! Now it is afternoon and he drops his backpack to the floor. His mother has left for church, an impromptu visit with God. His room has been rearranged, the space smelling of myrrh and hot wax. Walls flicker in discord. Jesus and Mary have found home on his shelves. An open pair of scissors placed carefully beneath his pillow.

last night’s impression:
her smile lit up by streetlight –
a slice of apple.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

above/ground press ALBERTA SERIES, now on-line

Edited and produced by rob mclennan
in Edmonton, at the University of Alberta
designed by mdesnoyers

One > rob mclennan
Two > George Bowering
Three > Christine Stewart
Four > Natalie Simpson
Five > Catherine Owen
Six > Jenna Butler
Seven > Douglas Barbour
Eight > derek beaulieu

These poetry chapbooks were originally produced in numbered runs of two hundred copies, once a month, from September 2007 to April 2008, to correspond with my time in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta. All but two, myself and George Bowering, are Alberta authors, and George's came around the time he did a reading in Edmonton at the Olive Reading Series.

In the fifteen years I've been running above/ground press, producing chapbooks, magazines and 'poem' leaflets, I was amazed at what I could potentially accomplish, given that, thanks to the University and my new income, with actual resources. How could I not be producing material out of my English and Film Studies office?

rob mclennan
Ottawa, October 2008

Friday, February 06, 2009

Ottawa: The Unknown City

I'm not entirely sure if the Grace Manor on Wellington Street West (just by Parkdale) is a senior's home or not, but it isn’t what it once was. In the 1990s, it was still the home of the Grace Hospital, known informally as Ottawa's baby hospital.

Back when I was someone else, I was born in that place, to a woman I still haven’t met, with a name that I still haven’t heard, knowing only the last initial as A, otherwise named Duncan Warren Andrew. What could it be? With my father apparently not on my birth certificate, I can only presume that the mysterious A. belonged to her, but I have yet to find out.

I used to walk by the Grace Hospital sometimes and wonder, what room was I born in, what floor? Were there records inside that would tell me, and if so, how could I get them? And then the whole building torn down and left open, a pit in the ground, before this new structure built.

And how do I manage to live, after my Glengarry years, bare a mile from the spot I was born?

Ottawa: The Unknown City

There were a number of places my mother's family lived when they arrived in Ottawa, after living in Kemptville and Brockville, that somehow, every time they moved out, the house was torn down for the sake of something else. The house at 189 Hawthorne Avenue was torn down to build the on-ramp for the 417 at Lees Avenue, and their later house in the Alta Vista area, originally called 1284 Kirk Drive when they arrived in the mid-1960s, soon turning into 1293 Ridgemont Avenue, was torn down after everyone finally vacated in the late 1990s, for the sake of the new owners building a smaller house on the same lot.

In between those addresses, my mother lived in a house at 233 Gilmour Street with her parents and various siblings, when she attended the Elgin Street School, and, until she dropped out, Lisgar Collegiate. What became the "squatter house" in the early 2000's was where my mother's best friend lived, back in the 1960s, and apparently Bouchey's Market has been there for generations, back to at least the 1940s, owned and operated by the same family?

When they finally vacated, the house was torn down for the sake of this, the public service building that looks like a giant oval ship. Wouldn’t you rather a family home in the same location?

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Monica Kidd, any other woman: an uncommon biography

What is it about this story of my great-grandparents that offers so much but gives so little? Why do I persist in this search, despite every indication there is nothing to be found? Why am I secretly relieved when I find, again and again, that nothing has stood up to the constant weathering of time? Is it because I’m spared the old cliché of the facts getting in the way of a good story? Am I happy to have my low expectations met? I don’t think so. There must be something of me in all of this that I am eager to know. I can’t ignore the fact that I am writing this at a time when my own identity is so uncertain: at the age of thirty-three, I have quit my job as a reporter and will begin medical school in a month.
I was very taken by Monica Kidd’s new memoir, any other woman: an uncommon biography (Edmonton AB: NeWest Press, 2008). Written over a period of a decade, Kidd [see her 12 or 20 questions here] returns from Newfoundland to her roots in Alberta, and works to find information on her great-grandparents, Andrew Zak and Rosalia Patala, who arrived in the Canadian west in the early twentieth century. Not only a book through what she has found, Kidd writes her memoir out of the search itself, moving through interviews with strangers and family members, explorations through small Alberta mining towns, provincial and local archives, and even to Slovakia, looking to discover confirmations on their points-of-origin. Like any good genealogist, its not just the names and the dates she seeks, but the narrative that holds all the pieces together, working her way through discoveries, correcting and confirming family stories, and her own disappointments. Part of what makes this memoir is the movement of discovery, telling the story of finding, searching and even not finding pieces of this family story, eventually finding enough to be able to piece much of what her grandparent’s lives might have been, meeting in the west and losing a child, moving towns as worked moved them, and the children that followed. Through all of this, near the end, Kidd makes this admission:

Here is where I should say that I was adopted. Rosalia is my great-grandmother by arrangement, not blood. But genetics has nothing to do with the power this land holds over me, just as it has for anyone who has ever longed for a piece of earth. Without Rosalia, my own life would not have unfolded the way it has. Without this land, there would have been no Rosalia. Therefore, I choose to call this my own. She’s one of ours.

What’s so special about this place? Nothing. Everything.
What I find interesting in that is how she has laid her claim on this history, this ancestry, made just as much by the facts of these stories as anyone else would have, blood or not. I could claim the same myself, being both adopted and the self-proclaimed family genealogist, moving through over three hundred pages of nearly fifty unrelated McLennan and MacLennan lines throughout Stormont and Glengarry Counties. What makes Kidd, or anyone, work so hard to place her own lineage? Still, this is one of the few places in the book where Kidd talks about any of herself at all, keeping her own life at a distance, focusing instead on the search for great-grandparents, and her great-grandmother Rosalia, specifically. We know she begins the book as a journalist, and ends the book as a medical resident, and that the book was the journey of a decade, but otherwise, we know little else.

any other woman: an uncommon biography is an extremely compelling book, and one that I had difficulty putting down, managing to read through in a single sitting. More than the story of an individual, or a couple, Kidd knows that to learn a people is to have to learn a place, and Kidd has done that, moving through towns along the western part of Alberta and into British Columbia, working through mining and even Turtle Mountain, the slide that took out Frank back in 1904 before she headed into eastern Europe. I just hope that this isn’t her last foray into creative non-fiction.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

some upcoming events;

Angela Szczepaniak, Eva Moran & Jason Camlot at the Factory Reading Series
lovingly hosted by rob mclennan
as part of the Factory Reading Series at the Ottawa Art Gallery
doors 7pm, reading 7:30pm
Thursday, February 12, 2009

Jay MillAr & Pearl Pirie, February 13th at the Carleton Tavern
lovingly hosted by rob mclennan
doors 7pm, reading 7:30pm
The Carleton Tavern (upstairs), 223 Armstrong (at Parkdale)
Friday, February 13, 2009

Mitchell Parry, Clare Latremouille & Rob Friday, Feb. 20 at the Carleton Tavern
lovingly hosted by rob mclennan
doors 7pm, reading 7:30pm
The Carleton Tavern (upstairs), 223 Armstrong (at Parkdale)
Friday, February 20, 2009

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

from "missing persons"

Where Alberta and her family lived, it was said, there was a language of lakes that no man ever used, but a language of spring runoff and momentary creeks, as well as infrequent hailstorms; Biblical floods between seasonal drought. Alberta knew: they could be nothing less than creatures of extremes, borne from this land of extremes, and seeming contradiction.

Well after the house was dark and silent, the hail hit sudden, buckshot-hard across the aluminum spread over house and garage, and shot rain through the windows. Luckily, Emma had heard the weather reports on the radio, and put the car in for the night, protected by ramshackle shed. Staccato notes on the roof woke Alberta in her bed and kept rumbling. An erratic drum-roll for a crescendo that never could climax. An anticipation that would never fulfill. She lifted her covers, and eased in to the open window.

Though you could see a car for miles, the weather was lightning-swift, and a storm could sweep in or disappear with a snap of air, as there was nothing on the land to distract it. The only hope, to spill south, and slip into the valley and move long across the lower end of province across the cut of the river.

From the lightning flash, Alberta could almost see the buildings that sat discreetly below the rise of mute prairie. White bulbs of ice bouncing hard off the concrete floor of earth, splashing pools in the backyard and fields.

There are times, Alberta realized, she could almost see the Rocky Mountains from her window; she could feel the snow melt and run slow along eastern trails worn through rock toward her and the eventual river. Alberta a tributary of light on low horizon.

With her arms on the window-ledge, she lay low her eyes on her dead father’s quarter and rested.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

the VERY FIRST ISSUE of seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics

edited by rob mclennan
designed by Roland Prevost;

seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics comes out as the natural extension of the eight issues of edited by rob mclennan and Stephen Brockwell. Highlighting the diversity of voice, style, practice and politic, seventeen seconds continues the resolve to provide a forum for dialogue on contemporary poetics, with a focus on Canadian writing. Over the past two decades, the amount of critical writing published in print literary journals on Canadian poetry, specifically, seems to have decreased dramatically, but slowly returned through a number of online journals. seventeen seconds simply wishes to help strengthen the dialogue and the ongoing conversation about writing through publishing new writing, and conversation about new writing. How else are we supposed to learn anything, unless we keep talking?

Feedback and submission queries are most welcome.az421 (at) freenet (dot) carleton (dot) ca

the first issue features:

Chain Home - by Gil McElroy

SEXING THE PRAIRIE; or, Why I Am/Not a Prairie Poet - by rob mclennan

Alchemists of the Human Experience: an Interview with Vincent Ferrini - interview by Michael O'Driscoll

Scored Space - by Betsy Warland

a case made in lowers: an interview with ryan fitzpatrick - by rob mclennan

Draft 91: Proverbs - by Rachel Blau DuPlessis